Merapi roars, compulsory evacuation ordered

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mount Merapi on central Java
Satellite image of Mount Merapi, 2003.

Indonesian authorities have ordered the compulsory evacuation of thousands of residents living on the slopes of the volcano Mount Merapi in Central Java. The alert level has been raised to the highest level, warning of an imminent eruption of the volcano that has been rumbling for weeks and spewing lava and black ash.

"This morning we raised the status of Merapi to the top alert which is the red code" said Subandrio, head of the Merapi section at the Centre for Volcanological Research and Technology Development.

"Every resident has been ordered to evacuate."

"Because there has been constant lava flows that cause hot gases, we have raised the status to the highest level," said Bambang Dwiyanto, head of the region's vulcanology center.

More than 1,000 people who live closest to the crater, including the elderly and mothers with young children, have already been evacuated. But some residents have remained reluctant to leave; they fear losing property and livestock. 27,000 locals in 3 villages could be affected by this eruption.

The scientists have warned that the greatest danger could come from hot gasses expelled from the volcano's crater.

The 3,000m (9,700ft) peak, in densely populated Central Java province, is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia and part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" - a series of volcanoes stretching from the Americas through Japan and Southeast Asia.

Location of Central Java province within Indonesia

It has small eruptions every 3-4 years and larger eruptions every 10-15 years. It has produced more pyroclastic flows, popularly known as heat cloud and magma, than any other volcano in the world. A gas cloud from the volcano's last eruption in 1994 killed 60 people. During the eruption in 1930, 1,300 people died. Historians say that Mount Merapi has been active for 10,000 years. The locals consider Mount Merapi very sacred. According to the local folklore the volcano's eruption is the result of spirits being angered by not receiving sufficient offerings or by a disrespectful attitude among the people on the slopes.